shiur Shemini 5781 – Serving with Reverence

B”H

shiur for parashas Shemini 5781

“This is it that H’Shem spoke, saying: Through them that are nigh unto Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.”

– Leviticus 10:3, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to chazal, Nadav and Avihu are portrayed as righteous individuals who overstepped the boundaries in place for them as kohanim; as they tried to draw closer to H’Shem, in an unauthorized manner, they were consumed by “fire from before H’Shem” (Leviticus 10:2, JPS). According to the Talmud, Aaron’s two sons died, only for the sake of sanctifying H’Shem’s name (Zevachim 115b). Within the same Talmudic passage, another view expresses their deaths in a more nuanced way, specifically, alluding to their transgression, by making the point that they had previously been cautioned against drawing too close to H’Shem.

Rashi comments that through the execution of judgment upon righteous individuals, yiras HShem (fear of G-d) is brought upon the people. This is an important principle; with respect to Nadav and Avihu, their deaths caused the people to witness how precarious serving G-d may be, if a righteous person is not careful in respect to his avodah (service towards H’Shem). The deaths of Nadav and Avihu show, by way of an example with a deadly consequence, that H’Shem needs to be approached with great reverence, awe, and respect.

A harsher condemnation of Nadav and Avihu may be rendered by a perspective that is even more critical of their transgression. They brought “alien fire” from a source other than the fire on the mizbeach. The fire on the mizbeach had its origin from Shomayim (Leviticus 9:24); according to Sifre, fire descended in the shape of a pillar between heaven and earth. Yet, Nadav and Avihu flouted the implicit directive, to draw fire from the outer mizbeach for all of the offerings (the original fire from H’Shem).

What could have motivated Nadav and Avihu to take alien fire for their incense offering, instead of the fire that H’Shem had provided? One view critiques them as desiring to usurp the authority of Moshe and Aaron. Furthermore, because the authority of Moshe and Aaron was given to them from H’Shem, then flouting that authority would be akin to disregarding the authority of H’Shem. Therefore, it could be inferred that their taking of alien fire constitutes a betrayal of their motives to disregard the sovereignty of H’Shem.

Consider that towards the end of the first Temple period, the people were admonished, “they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13, JPS). The people had sought out other gods – alien gods – to worship, according to their own intentions; they had forsaken H’Shem.

Today, when we approach H’Shem in prayer, our avodah (service), equal to prayer of the heart, should be performed in reverence. Serving H’Shem, through the observance of the mitzvot, as well as through prayer, may also require a rigorous examination of conscience, for the sake of bringing to light ulterior motives, faults, and character defects. Who shall ascend into the mountain of H’Shem? And who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart [lev tahor]; who hath not taken My name in vain, and hath not sworn deceitfully” (Psalm 24:4, JPS 1917 Tanach).

parashas Shoftim 5780

parashas Shoftim 5780 (recorded on Sunday)

“Justice justice [tzedek tzedek] shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the L-RD, Our G-d giveth thee.”

  • Deuteronomy 16:2

Moshe proclaims the imperative to establish judges to judge the people, emphasizing the pursuit of justice. However, the Hebrew word, tzedek, may also be translated as righteousness. Therefore, the verse (pasuk) may be rendered, Righteousness, righteousness, shall you pursue, providing a more accessible understanding for the benefit of the everyday reader. Within this framework, the pasuk (verse) may be taken an ethical imperative, that places a strong emphasis on individual righteousness. Besides, if we are not walking in righteousness, what right do we have to judge others?

Additionally, inasmuch that the word tzedek (righteousness) is repeated twice, we may infer that the repetition refers to two types of righteousness. This might be alluded to in several passages within the book of Deuteronomy. The first, is a call for Bnei Yisrael to circumcise their hearts, making an effort on their own to improve their ways, moving towards righteousness (Deuteronomy 10).

The second, HShem states that He Himself will circumcise our hearts (Deuteronomy 30), whereas the righteousness that will ensue is a gift from Above. Viewed together, these two ways may imply that when we make an effort to draw close to HShem through teshuvah, He will meet us halfway (Shabbos 104a). I.e., When we attempt to improve ourselves, HShem will respond in like manner to our efforts.

Furthermore, to be righteous in HShems eyes, a casting away of aveiros (transgressions) is first necessary. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean (Ezekiel 36:25, JPS). I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes (Ezekiel 36:27, JPS 1917 Tanach). H’Shem’s gift from Above will be bestowed upon us through the Ruach (Spirit), so that our lives may be sanctified.

weekly reading: Sanctification

B”H

Shiur for parashas Emor

The Sanctification of H’Shem’s Name

“I will be sanctified among the children of Israel.”
– Leviticus 22:32

Selfless behavior could be defined as akin to mesiras nefesh – self-sacrifice. Mesiras nefesh may be viewed as an ongoing act in the sense of subduing the yetzer hara (the evil inclination), for the sake of sanctifying H’Shem’s name. The resultant reward is that we ourselves become sanctified, every time that we do not give in to our own character weaknesses. This is a challenge that appears in many circumstances on a daily basis; therefore, it is best to be on guard against temptation, by strengthening ourselves through constant vigilance.

To be selfless, in respect to mesiras nefesh on the level of morality, is to actively engage in diminishing our own will in favor of the ratzon (will) of H’Shem. When we negate ourselves, we renew ourselves for the sake of H’Shem who sanctifies us. This is a two way street of reciprocity; otherwise, like two sides of the same coin. Whereof, we are sanctified by H’Shem, through our own efforts to become holy. When we separate ourselves from unholiness, we are blessed with an equal measure of kedushah from H’Shem. By serving H’Shem, we bring glory (kavod) to H’Shem.

“You are my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”

-Isaiah 49:3